At Trainer refinery, workers prepare for jet-fuel production

Shift change at 4 p.m. at the former ConocoPhillips oil refinery, which is back up and running under the auspices of Monroe Energy, a subsidiary of Delta, which will use the plant to make fuel for its airlines. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Shift change at 4 p.m. at the former ConocoPhillips oil refinery, which is back up and running under the auspices of Monroe Energy, a subsidiary of Delta, which will use the plant to make fuel for its airlines. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 04, 2012

Workers are returning to the former ConocoPhillips refinery in Trainer, to begin steps toward resuming fuel production in September, a move that new owner Delta Air Lines hopes can cut its jet-fuel bill by $300 million a year.

A Delta subsidiary, Monroe Energy L.L.C., closed on the $180 million purchase of the idled oil refinery on June 22. Three days later, the first workers arrived to begin a turnaround, which is a maintenance procedure, and to modify some units and do routine inspections.

"It's really humbling to be involved with such an impact in a community," said Jeffrey Warmann, president and CEO of Monroe Energy and the refinery manager. "It's great to see moms and dads, and sisters and brothers, all getting to back to work. I can imagine that in many homes there are smiling faces now."

As maintenance and operations crews arrived for and departed from their shifts about 4:30 p.m. Monday, they greeted one another warmly with handshakes and big grins.

"It's great to be back, and great to be working for a company that seems to really want to get things started," said Stephen Kokas, 60, a carpenter from Bethel Township, Delaware County, who has worked 36 years at the refinery. "Morale is very high. They seem to want to show their best effort toward us, treat us good. And now, we're working on a common goal to turn on the refinery and get the refinery running."

Jim Chandler, 63, a boiler operator from Penn Township, Chester County, spent 39 1/2 years at the refinery before the plant closed. "Before we left, I did say that my wife was looking forward to having me home. She changed her mind after three months! She's happy to get me out of the house working."

"We're all feeling very pleased with Monroe," Chandler said, "and happy to be back at work."

Millwright and union official Denis Stephano said about 177 United Steelworkers members who had worked for ConocoPhillips have returned. About 40 retired or found other jobs after ConocoPhillips halted operations at the Delaware County refinery in September.

"We're 40 short. We've already hired some from Sunoco," said Warmann. "We're getting applications from all over. Eight people from Marcus Hook have already accepted positions. There are a lot of great people in the area that need jobs. We've been interviewing and selecting them."

When its refinery is up and running again, Monroe Energy expects to have about 400 workers at the plant, about 220 of whom will be United Steelworkers members.

"Absolutely, people are happy," said Stephano, president of USW Local 10-234. "The school district, the town, the mayor of Trainer, the County Council. Everybody is happy. A lot of money gets generated out of these facilities."

The refinery will produce 165,000 to 185,000 barrels a day of crude oil, including 52,000 barrels per day of jet fuel. Delta will spent about $100 million to upgrade the plant to maximize jet-fuel production.

"We will be making gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel just like every other refinery," Warmann said. During the turnaround, the refinery workers will be joined by 600 to 700 members of other building trades unions to do repairs and overhaul equipment and compressors, he added.

Conoco was due for turnaround maintenance to do repairs and equipment overhauls when it idled the plant instead in September.

"We have to recertify everybody, and there are people coming in new, like from Sunoco that have to be trained on the specific units," Warmann said. "We're getting applications from all over, including from PBF in Delaware City and Paulsboro, and other places."

The Trainer refinery will supply Delta's Northeast operations. The jet fuel will be transported by pipeline and barge to airports, including John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia, and Boston Logan, he said. Partnerships with BP and Phillips 66 will give Delta access to additional jet fuel around the country.

"It feels fantastic to be back," said Kevin Koperna, 42, from Glen Mills, who works in operations and had been out of work since late January. "I looked for jobs. I spent time with my children. People feel overwhelmed, excited."

Mike Evans, 31, from Aston, works in the "tank farm." He said he spent the five months he was laid off as "a stay-at-home dad."

"It's awesome to be back," he said. "It's good to have a job!"

Contact Linda Loyd at 215 854 2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com

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